Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wretched Excess in Orlando

“Queen of Versailles” a Materialistic Horror Show

Wretched excess: we see a lot of it in South Florida in tasteless, oversized McMansions with expensive cars in the garages and pushy, pretentious people in residence.
There is no wretched excess quite like that depicted in “The Queen of Versailles,” a film documentary by Lauren Greenfield, shot largely on location in Orlando, Florida.
It is there that David Siegel and his former beauty queen wife Jackie plan to build the largest private residence in the USA. Versailles is what this 90,000 square-foot, 30 bedroom 19-bath monster is called. It is about as genuine as the ersatz Eiffel Tower on the Las Vegas strip.
“Queen of Versailles” is not just about a giant house. It is about the vacuous, disgustingly materialistic people who would be its inhabitants.
David, 74, and Jackie Siegel, now 43 were riding high when filming began in 2007.
David is founder and CEO of Westgate, the largest timeshare company in the world. Timesharing, which some prefer to call interval ownership, allows people of lesser means to at least temporarily live out their vacation fantasy dreams. Founded in 1980, the cornerstone of Westgate is easy credit. Siegel learned of the timeshare concept and perfected it into an art of high-pressure convincing ordinary people to live beyond their means. David Siegel actually brags that it was he who got George W. Bush elected President in Florida, and not necessarily by legal means.
It was that administration’s loose credit policies that lead to a day of reckoning and the crash of 2008. Credit dried up. Adjustable-rate mortgages adjusted upwards and banks called in debts.
David Siegel was caught in the crosshairs of the credit crisis. While his wife and eight kids blithely went about their free-spending ways, David worked overtime trying to salvage his empire.
Much of “Queen of Versailles” plays like a dark comedy as we watch this once super-rich family squirm and try to adjust to a more ordinary reality.
To me it is more of a horror movie about what is worst about America.
David Siegel sued the filmmakers for defamation of character because the film implied his organization was in dire straits and his dream mansion in foreclosure.
Siegel did lose his flagship timeshare, PH Westgate in Las Vegas, but evidently his company has rebounded and construction has allegedly resumed on Versailles.
I don’t care. It would be hard to feel sorry for the Siegels, even if they lost everything. Versailles is not a place I would want to live in or even visit. But if you view this as a real-life cautionary tale, I think you will see a lot of familiar, unflattering things, and it may give you pause to realize the emptiness of life based only on the accumulation of material wealth.

A Star Ballerina Returns to Boca

By Skip Sheffield

Welcome back Sarah Smith!
Sarah is a professional dancer with New York’s American Ballet Theatre (ABT) but she got her start in Boca Raton at Boca Ballet Theatre (BBT) and Harid Conservatory.
Sarah has returned to guest a number of times with BBT. Most recently she was in the annual production of “The Nutcracker.” Sarah has also guest-starred in “Giselle,” “Romeo & Juliet” and “La Bayadere” at BBT.
She is back this weekend to star as Swanhilda in E.T.A. Hoffman’s “Coppelia.” Playing her boyfriend Franz is fellow ABT professional, Gary Davis.
Directed by BBT co-founder and co-artistic director Dan Guin, “Coppelia” will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3, 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4 and 2 p.m. Sunday Aug. 6 in the Florida Atlantic University Theatre.
Based on Hoffman’s “The Sandman,” “Coppelia” is a light-hearted tale of a boy, a girl, and a girl who is actually a doll miraculously brought to life. BBT co-founders Dan Guin and Jane Tyree danced the roles of Franz and Swanhilda a number of times in their dancing career.
Tickets are $35 adults and $25 for seniors and children. Call 561-995-0709 or visit www.bocaballet.org.

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